Saturday, December 06, 2008

Things that happened this week and how I handled or mishandled them:

I've been labeled as arrogant and prideful by a few recent commentors. It's true that I think I am a good teacher, and it is true that I am confident in what I believe about education. Certainly I can be arrogant, and I am often prideful. But in my arrogance and pride I want only the success of the students, even if that means I get credit!
Anyway, this week offered yet another round of wild and wacky behavior. Some of the disorder continues to baffle me into near paralyzation. I mean that.

Monday: As I walked to my car after school, I noticed a student standing at the curb waiting for a ride. She's in one of my reading classes, but she rarely attends class. We've met a few times already with the various stakeholders in this student's success.
I stopped just to chat. To tell her that I wished she would attend my class. That if she's skipping because she feels unsuccessful (an admitted truth) I'm usually available for an hour and a half after school. Then I told her to have a nice afternoon.
She only came to class one of the four days we met last week.

Tuesday: Side Show Bob (because that's who he looks like) apparently had no interest in participating. He didn't want to read the selection because, "I just don't wanna. Why do you care?" Because I want you to improve as a reader so you can do well in your other classes. Apparently that wasn't a good enough answer because he continued to distract other potential learners. He was more successful at gaining their attention than the practice assignment on theme. I sent him to the hallway where he practiced his rapping skills. I didn't bring him back in because the class was actually working diligently.

Wednesday: With only three students in one of my classes, I gave in and let them relax. I'll admit that they were effectively persuasive when all three of them pointed out that they had recently used the character analysis skills (identifying round/flat/static/dynamic and character traits) in their English class. They were beaming as they told me how "smart" they felt because most of the other students didn't know that stuff. Yeah, I'm a sucker for learning.

Thursday: As one of my "duties," I monitor a study hall in the cafeteria. There is one other teacher to keep order for over a hundred students. My task is to serve as the door-man. I sign planners allowing students to visit counselors, bathrooms, or the library. Students often try to walk right by me like I don't exist, and then I have to get their attention and remind them that a planner is required.
Well, after the ninth or tenth person ignoring me, I stopped trying. I was tired of the looks, the whining, the "But I just need to go..." I put my nose in my book about teacher evaluations (there's irony for you) and educated myself about the process.

Friday: Here's where it all went to hell. During first period, I taught the final lesson on theme and then wanted to demonstrate for the students what their new class will look like when second semester rolls around. We'll be implementing the scripted program of Corrective Reading; I thought that they might want to see a quick sample since they've been asking about it.
I was wrong. One student was defiant when I tried to move them into the seating arrangement for the activity. "I don't want to. I want to sit right here." She eventually capitulated but then would not follow the instructions. Ultimately, I wanted to engage them in a dialogue about how the program worked, why it was structured that way, and what their initial response to it might be.
She reacted. "What the fuck? I'm not in third grade. This is bullshit. I'm not going to do that." Okay, just hang on, I want to have a conversation about this, but we can't just yell. Please sit down and wait. "No. You're treating us like we're in elementary school. I'm not that fucking stupid."
Whoa, wait, listen; if you've tested into the program... (A few more cuss words) Then I gave in: well if you act like you're in third grade, I guess we have to treat you that way. (Not as an excuse, but these types of power struggles and reactions are somewhat typical of my daily grind)
She walked out, cussing all the way.
Later in the day, I handed out progress reports to another class. One student has a failing grade because she has refused to do work and tests. I've met with mom and her other teachers to little avail. This turned into me being yelled at for giving her an F, how my class sucks, I'm a jerk. In the few moments to try and communicate, I gently tried to explain that all the missing assignments can be completed if she will stay after school. Her responses were that she's not staying after school, and she walked out because, "I'm getting tight."

So there haters. I'm not perfect, and I can admit it.


At 2:37 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

One reason folks might have labeled you arrogant and prideful is because you come across as such in countless ways.

One glaring example is your choice of profile image - a "Best of the Blogs Awards Finalist" graphic. I mean, who does that? It points to your conceitedness and insecurity.

As for thinking you're a good teacher, why is it that you think so? The best teachers I know constantly question their effectiveness and are the last ones to publicly declare that they're "good."

You say your attitude is a reflection of wanting the best for your students. Think about that. Would you want to learn from a teacher who was arrogant, prideful, and had no qualms about people viewing him as such?

I certainly wouldn't.

I think humility is one of the most underestimated characteristics of an effective teacher.

At 2:55 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

"This blog is designed to aid my students in the creation of their own English class blogs. It may also be used as a resource for other teachers looking to start a blogging project with their students."--That is from Mr. B-G's blog titled "Mr B-G's Blog Exemplar."

At least I've admitted my arrogance.

At 3:31 PM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

I honestly don't see what's arrogant about providing a model or exemplar. It's simply one element of effective teaching. Nowhere do I assign a value (as you have) to my blogs or their content.

You're projecting your own arrogance into my blog description.

At 9:26 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Mr. B-G, your blog is terrific. But, by virtue of labeling your blog as and "exemplar," you are defining your blog as one that ought to be imitated. If you believe that your blog should be imitated, there is an inherent arrogance in such a belief. I don't think there is anything wrong with you believing that your blog should serve as a model, it is a very fine blog. But to suggest that such a title as "exemplar" does not assign value simply misses the meaning of the word exemplar.

At 9:16 AM , Blogger Mr. B-G said...

Mr. McNamar, thanks for the compliment. I've been an avid reader of your blog for a few years now, so allow me to return the kudos. I enjoy your posts, and I've gotten a laugh reading some of the comments (and your responses). I suppose I just wanted in on the action.

I hope my initial comment wasn't too harsh. I was simply trying to respond to your content and back up my feedback with examples.

As for my blog exemplar, its purpose is to serve as a teaching tool. I decided this year I wanted my students to create their own blogs, so I created a separate blog page dedicated for that purpose.

My purpose in creating "Mr. B-G's Blog Exemplar" was not to build a legion of imitators. It was simply to serve as a digital guide.

I might be able to see your point if I had titled it "Mr. B-G's Blog Archetype," but I didn't.

At 9:52 AM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Well, thanks for joining in on the action--and don't worry, your comments weren't harsh (my wife calls me much worse!).
I love the idea of students blogging. In fact, during the three years I taught in Pre-College Enlgish in Washington, my students had a blog. The fossils are at (from 2005/2006) (2006/2007) (2006/2007)

And I like the Archetype, but wasn't sure if you meant in the Jungian way or in the standard definition.

And keep participating in my blog. I will be sure to make yours a regular read.

At 8:58 PM , Blogger Ms. V. said...

Wow. Do you work at my school? Take a look at my week. It lookds like we have the same kids.


At 1:50 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow. Where to start. I am a fellow teacher, and have only read your first entry regarding your week, and I must tell you, I'm completely horrified. Let me break it into a bit of detail.

Monday- Not a bad attempt, though I'd argue that if the student feels unsuccessful, I'm guessing you are not differentiating for her in a way that makes the course relevant to her. But, some kids just will not attend out of spite. *shrug* You tried, and that's more than many do. Kudos!

Tuesday- Don't nickname your kids. It shows that you are not empathetic, and, frankly, it is not nice. If he raps, then why not assign him some rap lyrics to read/write? Why mock him? Maybe the selection you were asking him to read was, again, not relevant to him. They can sense your mockery, you know.

Weds- "Yeah, I'm a sucker for learning". You're also a sucker for slackers! You missed a great chance to work with only three students! ALWAYS have them working on something. That is wasted time, and you have now sent the message, "I cave in to good students". They'll ask again soon. DO NOT let them "relax" again.

Thurs- Your sarcasm from the get-go shows that you don't like the job you've been assigned, but it IS part of your overall job at the school. Take it seriously. You stopped stopping them?!?! They won, and you are reinforcing your opinion that a duty like that is worthless. this is BAD. You will not be able to regain control there. JUST LIKE THE KIDS, you are studying your evaluations instead of doing your TASK. Bad modeling, bad attitude, and bad discipline. Grow up, and do your job. We all have those duties, and just like everything else, it's what you put into it, and your attitude.

Fri- WOW. Ok, first of all, your students CANNOT BE ALLOWED TO SWEAR at you. That is complete stupidity on your part. Where is your discipline? Wow. Just, wow. And don't give me the "they're tough kids" need to TEACH them what appropriate behavior is. She was defiant, and out of line, and you let her do it. That's basic stuff. The student not doing anything and failing as a result is very common. I see that sometimes too. All I can tell you is to tell her that you are not giving her an F, you are reporting the F that she earned. If that is not satisfactory, she can make up her grade. If not, fine, F it is. That simple.

But, above all, if your quotes here are accurate, your students do NOT respect you, in the least. This is a major problem, and will cause you daily stress.

I guess I'm not a hater, but, there are several warning-signs here!! As far as a claim of being a great educator, with all due respect, you seem to be lacking in many key areas...I bet you are excellent with CONTENT, but, if you can't handle basic classroom behavior management, or a duty, you're a long, LONG way of from excellent.

Your kids deserve better, so step up and help them into the students you desire to teach!!

-Mr. Cassidy, the average HS teacher.

At 2:29 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Me again.

I've read a ton of your entries now, some are quite wonderful, many are dark and cynical, and I commented on a few. I got to thinking....

My above post was blunt, and somewhat tactless. I'm aware. I was irritated. Now that I have a better read on your personality, I am less irritated, and more concerned. I see an educator who might burn-out too soon, to the detriment of the students.

You must, must, must be firm, crystal-clear, and fair in how you handle the students that irritate you. If I might analyze a bit, you are VERY cynical in nature. This is not good as an educator, try to not look through that lens. Look at each student and ask, "what does that kid care about?" Have them read, write, and analyze those things! Is the kid into smoking pot? Well, how about a non-fiction work about its dangers that the student argues against in an essay? Is the kid into gangster-rap? Then how about a book about police brutality, or street-violence? The point is, no one shoe is going to fit these students, and you MUST differentiate your material in order to reach them.

but again, content does not seem to be the problem. the problem seems to be in cultivating an attitude of respect from your students that will pay you stress-less dividends all year long! This is not done through friendliness, but rather, through tough love. Hold them accountable to YOU for their actions...not to the office, and not to their parents. To You. This will take time, patience, and creative punishment. However, after a short while, you will see attitudes change, and with them, your own day will go much smoother.

my heart goes out to you.

-Mr. Cassidy, the tactless HS teacher.

At 3:19 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Look at each student and ask, "what does that kid care about?" Have them read, write, and analyze those things!

Yes, that is what we should do. This is the goal. Utopia.

I have 178 students. And a life I would like to lead, somewhere in there. I cannot retain my sanity and design custom lesson plans for each and every one of those 178 students (actually, that number might be outdated - I don't think I've recounted since those 5-10 kids were added to my classes the two weeks before Thanksgiving).

And you know what? Some kids simply do not have something they care about. They have not seen people care about something, so they don't know how to do it. They think drugs and alcohol are cool, and they think they care about that. But they don't. They're simply imitating to fit in, because they think that's what friends/family likes/does.

There's only so much you can do. It would be nice if we could do it all, but we can't. Especially when we have so many other things to fight against. Sometimes, you gotta pick your battles.

At 4:02 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I appreciate that.

But is it Utopia? I don't think so. You are right, you cannot design custom plans for all 178 students (and don't we wish we could!!). This is clear. You can, however, design custom plans for the few students per class that are failing, in order to accommodate for the fact that they are failing. In other words, don't beat that dead horse, but you don't have to abandon it for ALL of them!

So, out of your 178 students, how many failed? I'll venture to guess maybe 24? Then that's 24 custom approaches...perhaps 2 or 3 per class. This is easily manageable.

I mean, isn't a feminist critique of Twilight just as good as a feminist critique of Frankenstein? One is a whole lot more relevant to their lives right now.

"we can't", your response says. I say, "we can". I wonder if you know teachers who are successful at this, and perhaps you could absorb some approaches into your own. Yes, by all means, keep your life outside of school sacrosanct, but, don't neglect your duty to accommodate students who learn differently than most.

It's exhausting as hell, but, it's a labor of love.

At 5:51 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Mr. Cassidy,
Thanks for going back and reading the body of my work here. And I wonder how far you went back, my Seattle days? I was less cynical then, I think.
Don't worry about being too frank, but remember, as you did, to always get the whole picture before labeling a blogger. Blogs can serve multiple purposes at once; at some points I vent at others I critique and others I praise--as you will see in the post I'm about to write.

At 8:31 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

You call this admitting to your imperfections? You seem to blame all of your problems on the limitations of your students.

At 5:57 PM , Blogger Mr. McNamar said...

Ms. Kelly, you must have read a different post. Which instance do I blame the student?
On Monday, I demonstrated my inability to engage the student.
On Tuesday, I let a kid wallow in the hallway because I couldn't engage him.
On Wednesday, I rested on my laurels.
On Thursday, I gave up trying to care.
On Friday, I acted like the childish student.
Um, I don't know what else to say.


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